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Survey helps gauge basic training environment

Dec. 8, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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Recruits have begun taking an anonymous survey toward the end of basic military training as part of the Air Force’s latest effort to prevent a repeat of the instructor sexual misconduct scandal uncovered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in 2011.

All recruits in week seven of the 8½ weeks of basic training will take the survey, said Col. J.D. Willis, deputy director of technical training for Air Education and Training Command.

About 2,000 trainees have participated in the survey, which was implemented in October.

So far, the feedback has been positive. Recruits across the board said they feel confident their squadron leaders would take action if they reported abuses, Willis said.

But the survey also revealed an uptick in trainee-on-trainee bullying, which may have been a result of increased trainee downtime in the dormitories each evening, Willis said.

In response, “We reinstituted a little more contact time” between trainers and recruits. “Now we can start watching to see if that decreases the incidents of bullying,” Willis said.

To date, 26 military training instructors involved in the 2011 scandalhave been convicted at courts-martial on charges ranging from rape to unprofessional relationships with basic training graduates. Four more received nonjudicial punishment.

The Air Force has implemented dozens of changes to basic military training, including toughening the job requirements, adding positions and giving trainees more access to chaplains, counselors and others outside their chain of command so they can report any potential wrongdoing.

There have been no new reports of sexual misconduct since the summer of 2012.

A 2012 command-directed investigation into BMT uncovered instructor misconduct dating back years.

“We wanted to find out why we weren’t able to know that earlier and why the reporting mechanisms in place weren’t being used,” Willis said.

Former AETC commander Gen. Edward Rice, who retired earlier this year, commissioned a group of social scientists from the RAND Corp. to help address those questions, Willis said. Their work resulted in the survey.

The computer-based test covers bullying among recruits, instructor maltreatment, unprofessional relationships and sexual harassment and assault, Willis said.

Instead of asking a trainee if he or she has been mistreated or harassed, however, it poses questions about specific behaviors. Among them: Has an instructor assigned activities unrelated to training? Taken a photo or video of you for personal reasons? Withheld your mail, threatened to hurt you, intentionally damaged your property or called you insulting names?

To ensure anonymity, the Air Force received a Defense Department waiver to administer the survey without requiring respondents to enter identifying information. Recruits take the computer-based test in large groups.

“We wanted to make sure trainees had the confidence in their leadership,” Willis said. “We knew if they didn’t, the likelihood of reporting was not there. We want them to know the system will work if you let us know of wrongdoing.”

The data is collected and reviewed by social scientists at AETC, who then provide the results to leadership.

The Air Force plans to give the survey for at least a year. “We think this survey is a really helpful instrument into giving us insight into what’s really going on,” Willis said.

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